RICHMOND, Va. (AP) - Virginia is poised to soften penalties for people caught stealing smaller-dollar items after a compromise announced by Democratic Gov. Ralph Northam and Republican lawmakers.
The governor and Republican leaders outlined a deal Thursday that would raise the state's felony theft threshold from $200 to $500.
Virginia has kept its felony bar at $200 since 1980 and is tied with New Jersey for the lowest in the country. Most other states have raised the dollar minimum for felony charges to keep pace with inflation.
Northam had pushed for raising the threshold to $1,000 while House Republicans had previously blocked efforts to raise the threshold by any amount. House Republicans said were willing to accept the $500 threshold in exchange for Northam's support of legislation aimed at reforming the state's restitution system.
However, critics argue raising the threshold hurts retailers.
Raymond Mattes, CEO of Retail Alliance, an organization that represents local retailers in Hampton Roads, said it will help organized shoplifting.
“They will steal up until the threshold so that it's a misdemeanor if they get caught and they'll go back and forth to get goods,” said Mattes.
However, proponents of the bill argue the $200 threshold, which is one of the lowest in the country, is too extreme.
“That felony is just like a big red, you know, scarlet letter because this poor guy or woman made a terrible judgment in error,” said Cathleen Monahan, case manager for Step Up, Inc, an organization that helps offenders re-enter into society.
“We want them to be able to be productive citizens, pay taxes, be part of our economy,” said Monahan. “That's the idea of crime and punishment.”
As part of the bipartisan compromise, Gov. Northam said a series of other bills will pass, including making sure restitution is collected from defendants and then delivered to crime victims.